Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Tweezing the Ex-job Splinters, Part 3
(Before I wade back into the mess, I should say that yesterday was a perfect work day at the new job. Tuesdays are arts and crafts. We made up our own holidays, wrote descriptions of them, drew ourselves celebrating, and made decorations. At the end of the day, my boss told me that she’s really impressed with the job I’m doing, that no other After School Leader had been able to get the kids to write like I do. I feel lucky and safe…)
It should be said that, in spite of her reporting me to the OM, I’d become friends with Contempt Face over the summer. She was one of the few people who would talk to me during camp. I was relieved to know that she was the new coordinator, since I wouldn’t have to shock another boss about the kids still Knowing About Me.
The 2009-2010 school year had a lot of bright points. I got to work with the little kids, which suits me because you get to smile more. I had my own classroom, even if it doubled as CF’s office. Before long, the walls were plastered with the kids’ projects, bright and unassailably beautiful as kid-art always is.
Also plastered on the wall, behind CF’s desk, were like 20 pictures of CF and her family. Her and her boyfriend at prom, them home with their little daughter, etc. To her credit, the OM (We’re back to the boss’s boss from the original “You offend our culture” conversation.) realized the unfairness of this and asked CF to take down the pictures, but CF wouldn’t.
Let’s go through the cast of adult characters: There was W, a guy’s guy who kept complaining that a gay-seeming 6th grader needed to start “acting like a man.” (To her credit, CF thwarted this kind of talk once she realized it pissed me off.) There was a sweet, sweet closeted Mormon boy (hereafter CMB) who came to me for advice and became my confidante. There was Ms. K, the curriculum supervisor who wouldn’t do anything that isn’t in the Bible, including Thanksgiving. (Once I heard her complain that all of us women should be home teaching our daughters how to do laundry, like The Lord wanted us to.) My teaching partner was a very nice Muslim lady who brought a lot of peace and order to our classroom, at first. And there was D, the floater, who filled in whenever anyone’s partner was out.
Looking back, I guess the first symptom of depression was stage fright. I stopped performing at my own venue because I couldn’t stand the sound of my voice. Before I went to check in for the Encyclopedia Show in Chicago, I had a panic attack so bad that I almost ran away from a reading we’d driven overnight to attend.
It’s hard to say when I started to be afraid to come into work. Maybe it was CF’s love of iterating rape plots from Law and Order while everyone wrote their lesson plans. She seemed very offended when I asked her nicely to stop. Not to be culturally incompetent, but the constant presence of religious fundamentalism did not make me feel safe. Nor was it soothing when a closeted friend (She put off her ENTIRE coming out until her AmeriCorps service was done!) at another site told me about a staff meeting she’d been in where everyone agreed it was their duty to set gay-seeming kids (especially boys) straight.
Ms. K, who led the older kids’ class, did a project for Growing Peaceful Communities where they cut out pictures of celebrities and sorted them between ugly and beautiful. She gleefully iterated the vivid, misogynist, racist ways that her students had ripped apart the people in the pictures- no lips, hair, or boobs were safe from dissection and criticism. She said she’s let them do this as a reward. And this was for a project about changing the world through positive language.
In the midst of all this, D. and I became friends. We had a great conversation on the way home from the company Christmas party, and she seemed like an artsy kindred spirit. I sort of overcame my aversion to online chatting to get to know her. The times she’d filled in in my class, she said she really liked my teaching style, and she was so supportive throughout my process of applying to Teach for America. She started to feel like a good luck charm.
Through some coincidence, D. and my teaching partner started being really rude and unpredictable to me around the same time. D. was really close with CF, and I felt really envious of their closeness. Instead of leaving D. alone, I confessed that I had a crush on her, which was a dumb, dumb, dumb, unprofessional thing to do. I also sent her a (chaste) poem I’d written. I am still apologizing to that poem. After I told D. how I felt, she clearly told CF about it, because the two of them began looking at me like I was some kind of monster. D. even said one day to CF, “Escort me to the parking lot, so the Boogie Monster doesn’t get me.”
One day, I couldn’t stop crying enough to teach my class. D, CF, and I decided to have a meeting after the kids left to clear things up. I made it clear that I would leave D. alone and act professional, but the meeting ended with her screaming and flailing at me, and with CF saying threateningly “Leave her alone.” As CMB and I left the parking lot that night, D. came speeding at us in her car, radio turned up like a movie. I wouldn’t say she tried to run us over, but almost.
Again, how did I go in to work the next day? I was so ashamed, of the crush, the poem, the crying. I told CF that I’d gotten on a waiting list for therapy, that I would be strong and professional from then on. I took D. off my facebook and treated her with cordial professionalism.
My teaching partner, however, was being less and less help and was being ruder and ruder to me. She and CF did a two-person eye roll almost every time I was talking. That thing kept happening where conversation would stop whenever I’d walk into the office. Finally I asked CF to facilitate a team time with me and my teaching partner to help us get along better. Why did I keep going to her for help? I don’t know. I guess I had to go to someone.
About a month had gone by when CF said “We have to meet on Monday. Just you and me. Can you come in early?” I tried to get her to change it to Friday, so that I wouldn’t have to be nervous all weekend, but, no, Monday it was. I knew it was going to be bad, and spent the weekend sobbing with my heart racing.